Black RNC Members Not Backing Steele

Don't expect the Republican National Committee's two black members to support Chairman Michael Steele in his re-election bid in January.

Ada Fisher, the black RNC committeewoman from North Carolina, has been an outspoken critic of Steele since she voted against him and for former South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson in 2009.

"Nobody asked the black members of the RNC what they felt, and I don't know that the other people were courted or asked for their votes," she said of that contest.

Steele, a former Maryland lieutenant governor, Senate candidate and state party chairman, was touted as Republicans' response to the first black president, Democrat Barack Obama. And even more recently, Republicans see Steele promoting his race as an asset to the party.

When Steele announced his bid for re-election on a conference call, he concluded by saying, "Who you elect as our next chairman will speak volumes about our willingness to truly be the party of Lincoln," according to the Washington Times. A prominent member of the RNC, James Bopp Jr., complained to the Times that Steele had used "the race card." Steele responded by calling Bopp "an idiot" and accusing him of bitterness over a consulting contract the RNC canceled.

The racial tension comes after elections that saw huge Republican gains, including two black Republicans elected to the House. Reps.-elect Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida are the first black Republicans to serve in the House since Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts retired in 2003. Both Scott and West declined interviews for this story.

The chairman may be looking for new allies. Yet even the two black members of the RNC — out of 168 total members — have never rallied around Steele. Fisher, a retired physician, and Glenn McCall, a retired banker who serves as the committeeman from South Carolina, both supported Dawson for chairman of the RNC on all six ballots in 2009. Dawson, who was criticized for his former membership in a club that didn't allow African-Americans, finished second to Steele. Fellow black Committeeman Keith Butler from Michigan, who has since left the committee, supported former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis.

Now, as he runs for re-election, Steele is the only non-white candidate who has declared for the chairman's race. Anuzis, Wisconsin GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, former Missouri GOP Chairwoman Ann Wagner, former Republican National Convention CEO Maria Cino and former RNC Political Director Gentry Collins have all thrown their hats into the ring.

Neither Fisher nor McCall has committed to an RNC candidate this time, but Fisher said she has already decided not to support Steele.

"I'm not only not supporting him, I'm not supporting any of his lieutenants, which includes Collins and Priebus," she told Roll Call. Collins served as RNC political director under Steele, and Priebus served as general counsel. Both have resigned those roles since the election. Fisher also said she won't support Anuzis.

The committeewoman's beef with Steele has nothing to do with his race, though. She said she didn't support him in the 2009 race because she felt he didn't have the same experience and detailed proposals Dawson did. Since then, Steele hasn't won her over. She said she hopes the new chairman will bring "competence, transparency and accountability" to the committee.

McCall, who said he was the first black committeeman elected from the South, hasn't ruled out supporting Steele in January.

"I haven't made up my mind," he told Roll Call. "I'm getting feedback from grass-roots activists in the state and also our elected officials, and if I just went purely on that, it would say he's not the person the grass-roots activists want here in South Carolina."

McCall said he's looking for a candidate who can engage major donors and assemble a strong, loyal staff. He said he supported Dawson in 2009 because he had a record of winning in South Carolina, something he felt Steele and Anuzis didn't have. Like Fisher, he felt those who worked for Steele should have done a better job of informing members of the executive committee when fundraising was going badly.

Fisher and McCall didn't feel the lack of black RNC members is a problem. McCall said any potential RNC members have to want to work hard to become RNC members, regardless of race.

"It's not one of those things where you can wave a magic wand and say, 'Let's make sure we can get inclusion,'" Fisher agreed.